I Tried To Give A Homeless Man A Vegetarian Sandwich

On Saturday, I make my way to a baseball game in Washington D.C.. I hate baseball. Yes, I am still allowed to live in the USA, but just barely because I’m probably on one of those WATCH LISTS now. But one of my favorite people in the world is getting married in June and the baseball game is the first event of her bachelorette party. And the only part I can attend. So not only am I driving to D.C. on a Saturday morning, but I am the proud owner of more baseball tickets than I have EVER bought in my lifetime.

I drive the two hours alone because no one else in Richmond knows the wonderful C. And although I am all like ROAD TRIP, N woke up five times the night before so I’m also all like COFFEE IV.

I give myself two and a half hours to make a hundred mile journey because I FEAR Northern Virginia traffic at all hours of the day and night. And I’m parking in the ECONOMY lot. Which may mean I need to hitchhike to get to the stadium.

But I cannot predict the future (THIS TIME) and I’m too early. But as I walk to the stadium, I realize that I have again proven I have no nerves around my bladder except DON’T HAVE TO PEE and OMG IF I DON’T PEE RIGHT NOW I’M GOING TO DIE. And in order to make it to stadium without purchasing Depends (gee those come up a LOT in my posts… sponsorship opportunity?), I need to stop. Plus I’m hungry. (LONG WALK.)

I see a sandwich shop and a CVS pharmacy. I decide that I can buy a sandwich AND use the bathroom; thus, forgoing the diaper option (although I could’ve gone all sugar high in CVS so it really was a toss-up).

As I reach the door, an older gentleman asks: Can you spare any change? Anything?

My policy with panhandling is simple: I give. If only 1 in 100 use my dollar for food, those are good enough odds for me.

However, after paying for parking, I only have a dollar left in my wallet. I am in a strange city so I don’t want an empty wallet. I have a (FEW) quirks. One of which is I MUST have cash on me when I travel. No matter what. I know. I couldn’t actually PURCHASE anything with a dollar, but I am not sure that I can give it up. (Maybe I should ask him what HE’S going to buy. Just for future justifications.)

So I respond: Let me think about it.

I enter the sandwich shop and begin to debate between the six-inch vegetarian and Italian subs. I go veggie. But I think of this man outside the door and say: Twelve-inch veggie please.

I pay, and suddenly, I’m nervous.

I find my courage by FINALLY peeing. And then letting the sub shop owners know the toilet paper situation in the women’s room. I figured that if I can announce THERE’S NO TOILET PAPER IN THE LADIES ROOM to a restaurant AFTER I’VE USED THE BATHROOM, I can offer a man a sandwich. I step outside.

Me: I don’t have enough money but you can have half my sandwich.

Homeless man: What kind?

Me: Vegetarian

Homeless man: No, thank you.

I can hear the snickers around me. The people outside the sandwich shop thinking: Why didn’t he take the sandwich?

I awkwardly eat my sub as I watch him ask customer after customer for pocket change. More people ignore him than acknowledge him. Only one person gives him anything before I shove the other half of the sandwich into my purse and head to the game.

I greet my friends and shift this big stinky sandwich around to find our tickets. My license. My wallet. My iPhone. I’m annoyed. But ANOTHER QUIRK is that I can’t bring myself to throw the sandwich away. IT’S A PERFECTLY GOOD SANDWICH.

While trying to palm off the six-inch sub on my friends, I struggle with my own self-righteousness.

I wanted to say to him: I acknowledged you. And you didn’t care. You didn’t share my sandwich. We could’ve had a conversation over lunch. We could’ve made fun of all the preppy popped collars and aviator sunglasses. Or the moms in the too tight jeans and giant leather purse clearly filled with six-FOOT long subs and two-liter Coke bottles to save money at the concession stand. I was embarrassed for both of us when you turned down my sandwich. All these people think you just want the money for booze. You made me uncomfortable. Like I should’ve asked you if you wanted a sandwich. You probably would’ve eaten the Italian sub if had I gotten it. But I didn’t want meat. And it was my choice. MY LUNCH.

But I don’t say this aloud to anyone. I let the people snicker. I changed the subject.

Because maybe he’s allowed to have choices, too.

Maybe he’s not a homeless man asking for money. Maybe he’s just a man. A man who politely declined my offer. A man who doesn’t like vegetables.

And maybe we can all relate to that.

On my way home from the game, I get caught in traffic. Awful, lanes-abruptly-ending, fifteen-highways-merge-into-one-and-no-one-knows-where-that-siren-is-coming-from traffic. And it’s late. Past dinnertime. So I eat his half of the sandwich. A sandwich that saves me from attempting to eat the people in front of me after ramming my bumper into their car for cutting me off AGAIN.

Maybe him accepting the sandwich wasn’t ever the point at all.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

38 thoughts to “I Tried To Give A Homeless Man A Vegetarian Sandwich”

  1. I love the sandwich story. This is emblematic of my job. I went into medicine because I romanticized what it was like to help people, and then I went into emergency medicine because I romanticized what it was like to help disenfranchised people whom no one else cared about. But why should they be grateful to me because I’m treating the with the human decency they deserve, just because no one else gives it to them? They have every right to expect that from me. Now, I think of it as a test–can I keep doing it without expecting gratitude? Some days, I pass; some days, I fail.
    .-= stayathomemd´s last blog ..Is Elena Kagan progressive enough? =-.

  2. I LOVE this post and love the fact that you give to everyone who asks you. That’s the right thing to do, you know, and still I don’t do it. I do it sometimes, if I’m not in a hurry, if my change is readily available and I don’t feel embarrassed scrambling for it, if the person seems “worth the trouble.” Sad isn’t it? Thanks for your inspiration.
    .-= Miss Welcome´s last blog ..Chez Moi =-.

  3. You are so funny. (Why did you choose a vegetarian sandwich, though? Come on, he probably wants MEAT!) I had a similar situation. My husband and I were in San Francisco, and we saw a homeless man outside a pizza parlor where we ate. We took a slice of pizza to him and he declined. I couldn’t get over it. Really? It was a perfectly good slice of pizza.

    Oh well. I guess we can’t save the world. I’m glad you got to enjoy the sandwich. At a baseball stadium, I’m sure it wasn’t cheap.
    .-= Jana @ Attitude Adjustment´s last blog ..Then and Now =-.

  4. While the sandwhich guy intrigues me, I am more Intrigued by the fact that you drove all that way by yourself to watch baseball.

    I love baseball don’t get me wrong, but I would never go that far to watch a game.

    I must be spoiled cause our stadium is less than 10 min from my house.

  5. That’s a great story. I admire you too, for always giving. I had, sporadically, and then I stopped. Not sure why (probably because there were so many in the city where I used to live). Anyway, this gives a whole new meaning to “Beggars can’t be choosers.” But I guess they still do, and we might assume we know what they want. But the least he could have done was say thank you.
    .-= Cecilia´s last blog ..My First Mother’s Day… =-.

  6. Good story! I have a good friend who always carries those little packaged crackers and cheese things to give. And my husband ALWAYS gives. He’ll give everything he has, which can lead to budget issues. I rarely give on the street, but do give to good area charities (food banks right now).
    Recently, though I was struck by a woman who was always on a corner I drive by. She held up a sign and looked over her shoulder at her dog. Her well trained dog. It sat right near traffic, just watching her. So, I brought them a pb&j and a small baggie of dog food.
    She accepted gracefully and joyfully. Which made me feel good — and sad.
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Teeth, houses and lifting weights =-.

  7. I have a friend that bought a meal for somebody asking for money, and the guy said no thanks. And, she had even put $5 in the bag. I’m beginning to think that they don’t really need or want food and that the money doesn’t help them at all.

    But, God was laughing the whole time, right? Because you had dinner and saved yourself from becoming a cannibal!
    .-= Krystyn´s last blog ..Mommy and Me Monday- The Mother’s Day (12th) Edition =-.

  8. My friend’s mother used to carry granola bars in her purse, just for this reason: to give to the homeless. They’d ask for money, she’d reach in and give them a Fiber One Bar.

    Sometimes they took it. Usually not.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Lost In Translation =-.

  9. It’s awful, being embarrassed for two when one of you is oblivious. Unless that one is a toddler, in which case that’s just life.
    I appreciate your humor, your storytelling, and your perspective. Maybe you (and Cranky Sarah, above) are right – maybe he wasn’t hungry. I, too, tend to think of homelessness in terms of the basic needs of shelter, clothing, and food. But I know it’s much more than that.
    .-= Leslie´s last blog ..Courage under love — and a little fire =-.

  10. I can see how it could hurt your feelings to be generous and have the offering be met with rejection toward your kindness. Especially from someone you are not obligated to help. Apparently he wasn’t hungry enough.
    And you were rewarded with dinner.
    .-= motpg´s last blog ..Happy Mothers Day Moms! =-.

  11. Cuz nothing says “bachelorette party at a baseball game” more than a veggie sub! (I wonder if those words have ever been used together in a sentence before?)

    I feel for ya. I hate to admit it, but I’ve become somewhat immune to the panhandlers. It’s hard to go half a block in downtown San Francisco without somebody hitting you up.

  12. When I saw you tweet on the weekend that you were going to a bachelorette party at a baseball game, I admit I did a double take. To each his own and who am I to judge? I didn’t even have one 🙂

    Enjoyed the story, but I’m shaking my head and wondering, really wondering why he refused. I don’t get it, and I hope it’s not because I’m ignorant, but maybe I am. Who knows, maybe he just wasn’t hungry. We always assume the money is for food right, but there are loads of other important things it could be for.

    And even odder is the deja vu I just had writing this comment. Weird, but I totally just did.
    .-= Christine LaRocque´s last blog ..Courage =-.

  13. Al-
    Thanks for the nice things you said about me. You are a great friend and I appreciate you driving up to DC. The homeless man may have declined your gesture but maybe deep down he was grateful that you thought of him when you were buying yourself a sandwich.

    I’m guessing all you ladies who don’t get the whole “bachelorette party at a baseball game” thing probably wouldn’t understand why I did The Worm on a concrete bar floor after the game either. Don’t worry, I went back to the hotel, put on a little black dress and heels, and went out to dinner. The only evidence of my earlier exploits was the small bruise on my right knee… concrete is unforgiving. Al, thanks for loving me for the goofball that I am 🙂

  14. I find this so interesting on so many levels. The first and most obvious one that he SAID NO TO THE SANDWICH. I will randomly worry that I too will become the panhandler and what my story will be that lead me there and I think, “Oh my gosh, I’d eat anything!” I’d be the woman digging in the dumpster. That amazes me he ASKED WHAT IT WAS and said NO! I’m also always interested in the give money/don’t give money choice (Read Blue Like Jazz!). I also found the panhandlers to be the most chivalrous people during this pregnancy thus far! Crammed on the METRO in DC this weekend and NO ONE offers their seat to the pregnant lady. No one let’s the obvious pregnant woman in front of them on and off trains or escalators. However, when a panhandlers asked for change in Georgetown and then saw my belly they IMMEDIATELY said, “Oh sorry Sir, Mrs., congratulations and blessings on your little one.” Seriously amazing.
    .-= Chara´s last blog ..Week 28: Officially into Third Trimester! =-.

  15. Oh, you’ve humbled me with your parting thoughts! I have to admit, I’m so much more cynical than this when it comes to beggars. Been thinking lately about trying to turn that around, but I’m afraid any food I offer would be refused, and I’m skeptical about where the money goes. Thanks for giving me a new point of view.
    .-= Jess´s last blog ..word of the day 130/365: indubitably =-.

  16. I don’t think you’re alone. I don’t like baseball either. Bunch of people standing around waiting for something to happen and most of the time, it doesn’t – and they call this sports.

    Anyway, I don’t give the homeless anything unless they are actually “working” for it, such as singing, playing an instrument. I make this distinction because being in a large city, there are MANY I encounter just in my commute and I have to be discerning with who is deserving of a dollar.

    But you’re right – he may be homeless, but that doesn’t mean he’s lost all rights to making a choice for himself. His attempt at holding on to what dignity he has left from having to ask for money on the streets perhaps?
    .-= Justine´s last blog ..It didn’t feel like courage =-.

    1. I’m totally a football person myself.

      And I think that it’s different in a large city. I am more discerning in those situations (and the whole OCD-cash-on-me thing)… and if I get hit up multiple times in my city? Well, I have to draw the line somewhere. Usually it’s a first-come-first-serve deal. (only because if i went homeless, i can’t sing. i can only play the piano and NO ONE is giving me a dollar if i have a baby-grand on the street corner. So i can’t use talent. It’s just not fair to homeless-Alex)

  17. Al, you know, he did say no, thank you, right? So at least he was being polite. I give what I can when someone asks me because they may look like they aren’t doing anything, but you never know what they’ve been thru to get to that point in their lives. If I give them money, then I give it to them knowing they will use it for what they need, whether I think it’s something they need. I have to remind myself everyday that it isn’t for me to judge, but it’s hard sometimes. Buying extra to share means a lot, even when you might not get the opportunity to share. Your heart is in the right place, and you write down so many of my thoughts and fears that I’m scared to voice because I’m a wimp. Thanks for having the courage to write who you are! I think you are really great!

  18. When I was working downtown, I always felt so awkward when I walked by homeless people. I tried to say hello, looked them in the eye. Because I knew that so many others would pretend that they weren’t even there. But when I looked at them, they probably expected me to actually give them something. I didn’t, normally. I passed by too many to give to everyone. But at Christmas time (and in the cold) it was too hard not to. I gave quite a bit. And I always wanted to offer food to them (especially one guy that I saw every day on the same corner), but I was too afraid of rejection. Afraid that they would turn down my offer (like your veggie sandwich). Good for you for having the courage to do it – even if this guy didn’t react they way you had hoped!
    .-= ShannonL´s last blog ..Five for Ten: Supergirl =-.

  19. I think it’s great that you tried to help someone out. Unfortunately our attempts at helping others won’t always be accepted. The main thing is that you stepped outside of yourself.
    Thanks so much for stopping by and commiserating with me when it comes to kids peeing in the yard. lol Have a great day.

    Kristi, Live and Love…Out Loud
    .-= Kristi {at} Live and Love…Out Loud´s last blog ..“Oh No He Didn’t!” Tuesday — Last Minute Mother’s Day Gift =-.

  20. I lived in Detroit for 9 years and I gave, but there were some panhandlers who were dressed better than me, so I didn’t.

    Once, I gave a regular near my house some money on my drive home from work. A little while after I got home I ran out to the store and passed by him sitting on the curb talking on a cell phone.

    But hey, homeless people need to keep in touch with people too, right?
    .-= Martha´s last blog ..Happy BirthMothersDay =-.

  21. This was a beautiful post. Honest, hilarious, and insightful. Just because someone is panhandling does not mean that they no longer have preferences and/or the right to chose what they eat, but at the same time, it would have been nice if he was more grateful I think. It was reallly kind of you to offer him your sandwich. But then again, I’m glad you had it later when you were stuck in traffic, so you did not have to eat the people in front of you on the highway. Not eating random traffic jam companions has its benefits too.

  22. Wonderful article. It was thought provoking and gave me a different perspective on the homeless. We’re all human with certain needs right?

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